Thursday, October 25, 2007

Book Review: The Science of Influence: How to Get Anyone to Say "Yes" in 8 Minutes or Less! by Kevin Hogan

Kevin Hogan is probably a great public speaker and his fees are justified. He is at best, however, a mediocre writer. This book appears to have a lot of useful information that could probably help someone become excellent at influencing others. The problem is that the writing is very choppy and somewhat unstructured. As you read there is no sense of flow or how one section ties in with another. An influence tip is often given without a good example on how to apply it, with the burden of extrapolating the idea left to the reader with a series of questions. The influence "gems" are lost in a writing style that makes it hard to get the point of each bit of advice. This leaves the reader with a sense of needing to go back and put the pieces together on their own, which is ironic because Hogan, in addition to being a teacher of influencing techniques is also supposed to be an expert communicator. One glaring gap is the promise in the books subtitle about influencing someone in 8 minutes or less: nowhere is it spelled out exactly how this is accomplished.

Hogan makes no bones about marketing his online products, particularly tapes which cover the same subject. Is his style meant to leave you hanging and wanting to purchase a DVD set?

Some of his material is taken, and duly credited in the bibliography, from Nobel Lauretes Kahneman and Taversky, as well as the influence expert Robert Cialdini. I would recommend reading these original sources as well.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Book Review: Whose Freedom?: The Battle Over America's Most Important Idea, by George Lakoff

First off, I tend to be conservative on most issues but I like to keep an open mind. I thought I might be persuaded to re-think some issues by a book written by a cognitive scientist who might lay out knowledge and insights backed up by research and scientific experiment. Lakoff's thesis is that people's political, ideological and other perspectives are ultimately shaped by on of two metaphors: the strict father family or the nurturant family metaphor. As I think back about the way I have developed my own views (coming from a strict father family background) and my often times knee-jerk reaction to some issues, I feel that there is a lot of credence to his model. However, I don't believe that the metaphors always trump logic and reason. Many of his statements and claims sound to me like standard left-wing slogans and cliches. Do I see them as that because that is what they are or am I filtering them through my strict father metaphor? I don't think one can assume that the latter is always or predominantly the case. I also wished that Lakoff would come out and state his premises clearly, rather then leave them to be inferred from the text. For example, he states that we humans are animals. Well, this premise obviously has a lot of implications for the arguments that follow, and the conclusions that derive from this premise have nothing to do with a strict father or nurturant family metaphor. This is where I think his arguments get seriously jumbled.

In the end, I find Lakoff's argument that the progessive idea of freedom is equal to the original idea of freedom that built this country unconvincing. His book says, basically, that any desire or want that liberals in general or the Democratic party specifically have, is a freedom tied to the real meaning of freedom. For example: socialized medicine? That's a "freedom to" have access to health care.

I also noted at least one major factual error: the United State's infant mortality rate is nowhere near what he claims it to be. I knew this immediately because I am familiar with that subject matter. Where else are there similar errors?

To be fair, there were some views that I found intriguing and valid. One was Lakoff's description of corporations as functioning in many regards outside the realm of public oversight and regulation, while having as much or greater impact on individuals' lifes than any government agency, in some cases.

It's an intersting book to read but far from the well-reasoned argument one would expected from someone of Lakoff's intellectual and academic caliber.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Random Musings on Baseball and the 2007 Post-season

The temperature at the start of one the games at Colorado was 50 degrees. Game time temperature in Phoenix was 93 degrees. Probably the largest temperature differential ever.

The Rockies regular season was supported in part by Tony Gwynn, Jr's key hit against Trevor Hoffman of the Padres. Hoffman is the all-time saves leader and the Padres were Gwynn, Jr's Hall of Fame father Tony Gwynn, Sr's old team. Interesting how these things happen.

There are enough side stories in the drama that is taking place in the post-season to make all the Yankees-Torre-ARod coverage excessive. For example, the Rockies ascendance from September til last night, when they won the NL Pennant. My favorite sidebar is the return of Kaz Matsui to a level of play and contribution that begins to reflect the kind of player he was in Japan. He went to the Rockies last year from the Mets. Met fans could not have gotten rid of him sooner. He was embraced by Clint Hurdle and went to the minors. Came back in late August and hit well. He has been a key part of the Rockies’ success this year. He scored 84 runs in 104 games, and also stole 32 bases and played solid defense. As a result, Kaz Matsui will get to the World Series before his more famous namesake Hideki Matsui. I’d like to know more about how his resurgence came about, particularly the role that Clint Hurdle played in reigniting him as well as the rest of the team. Of course, you won’t hear about any of this.

Why haven't the big spending teams made it all the way to the World Series? The Yankees didn't and it looks like neither will the Red Sox. Basically, everything changes in the post season because in essence, the post season consists of a second season of at most 19 games for any one team, assuming the Division, League Championship and World Series each go their limit. This second season consists of three mini-seasons comprised of a potential five, seven and seven games apiece. In a five game season, anything can happen. Teams can go 0 and 5 or 5 and 0 and everything in between. The same applies to a seven game season. But to advance to the next round, each team has to basically play .500 ball, plus win one more game. During the course of any 5 or 7 game stretch, virtually any team can accomplish this, from the lowly Devil Rays to the mighty Yankees. Ultimately, the series lengths are great equalizers. Statistically, one could assume that the shorter the series, the greater the equalization factor. Thus, the 1973 Mets beat the Big Red Machine, but were unable to handle the Oakland A's in seven games. The Yankees have similarly been defeated in the first round each year. And, I suppose, that's part of the beauty of the post-season, where the underdog has a decent chance of overcoming the favorite, simply because you are playing a microcosm of the regular season.

If the Rockies and Indians both go to the World Series, their combined payrolls of $116,097,267 will be significantly less than either the Yankees $189,639,045, or the Red Sox $143,026,214, and only slightly above the Mets $115 million plus payroll.